“Candyman is how we deal with the fact that this happened and is still happening….”
Directed by Nia DaCosta and co-written by Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld and Nia DaCosta, the 2021 film Candyman breathes new life into an urban legend. Even if you didn’t watch the original Candyman or any of its sequels, the modern day version helps fill in the blanks. Candyman follows the story of visual artist Anthony McCoy and how he’s introduced to the myth that is Candyman. Anthony becomes so consumed by this urban legend that he becomes his muse leading him in search of answers in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood, but little does he know the answers he’s seeking are closer than he thinks. When we first meet Anthony he’s doing seemingly well sharing an apartment with his girlfriend Brianna Cartwright in the new high rises that replaced part of the Cabrini-Green projects. Although on paper he seems to have it all, he’s having trouble finding inspiration for a show hosted at the art gallery Brianna curates at, that is until Brianna’s brother comes over and shares the tale of Candyman. If you’ve seen the original you’ll know right away that as with any other folklore or myth the story or “truth” has been distorted over time. If you didn’t do any research prior to watching DaCosta’s version of Candyman you’ll most likely consider this re-telling to be true.
After being introduced to the tale, Anthony begins to take an interest in Candyman as the subject of his new piece for the upcoming gallery show. Although we are following the story of Anthony and his journey of self-realization, there’s a much larger narrative intertwined into this version’s Candyman. The horrors of gentrification and its impact on black communities as well as centuries of senseless police brutality and racism are the overarching themes that inform much of the film’s dialogue. As Anthony delves deeper into Candyman’s myth in search of its true origins, it isn’t until he visits his mother that the truth is revealed, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. After visiting the mostly abandoned Cabrini-Green projects, Anthony meets a man named William, who had encountered the alleged Candyman of his era on two different occasions. Anthony receives a “history” lesson on the origins of the Candyman myth dating back to black artist Daniel Robitaille who in the 1890s was punished for an affair with a white woman. Daniel was dragged in town, beaten and had his hand was chopped off. He was also covered with honey which are explanations as to why Candyman regardless of which era has a hook for a hand and a swarm of bees following him.
Unlike the first film, this film reclaims Candyman as a means to a necessary end, that comes full circle at the end of the movie. The piece that Anthony creates for the exhibition prompts viewers to “SAY HIS NAME” 5 times while looking in a mirror. The title of this piece and the idea of keeping the Candyman legend alive draws a parallel to the “SAY HER NAME” movement which was created to remember the lives of innocent black woman who were victims of police brutality. The greatest myth debunked in this film is that Candyman is a result of folklore used to police the community, it’s actually the exact opposite. The first “Candyman” that William encountered, who was killed by the police was innocent. As was Daniel Robitaille. The most moving and telling line from this film is when William says, “Candyman is how we deal with the fact that this happened and is still happening,” referring to the deaths of countless innocent black men and women at the hands of white people and the police. Giving new meaning to Candyman’s purpose and legend, viewers are challenged to rethink whether or not Candyman is truly an antagonist or a dark foil to Anthony’s character.
Without giving too much away, on the night of the art exhibition a white art critic harshly judges Anthony’s work and it isn’t until later that night that things start become controversial. Candyman claims his first victims as he kills the Gallery owner and intern. He also pays a visit to a group of white teenage girls, one of whom attended the fateful show and learned of the myth. After the media starts to sensationalize the horror and tangible impact of Anthony’s art, he’s invited to the same art critic’s apartment to give a more thorough interview. After calling out her opportunist and fickle ways, the night takes a dark turn. As Anthony becomes more engulfed in the legend, he starts to lose himself. After a single bee sting while visiting the Cabrini-Green projects his skin slowly starts to become covered in bee stings. He starts creating a collection based off of his Candyman piece and starts to lose his sanity.
Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is a beautifully, dark and twisted cautionary tale to not trivialize the deaths of innocent black men and women and to literally say their names in remembrance, their real names. Candyman symbolizes every “faceless” and “nameless” black person who has died at the hands of police brutality or racism in general. While Candyman the myth does represent an extreme, the film pushes its audience to realize that some extremes are necessary, which plays out in the final act of the film.
The film is now playing.